Rob McWhinnie Interview

Great conversation with the man from the Hop shop. He tells us all about the downhill scene in Sydney, skating in Peru and his plans for the upcoming Euro tour.

Hi Rob, where are you from?
Gday mate, I’m an Aussie, I grew up in Bathurst but I live and call Sydney home now.

Where did you start skating?
The local skate park, it was built in wood and by the locals, we session’d there for years and even had school sport there.

How long ago was that?
16 years ago!

Have you been skating constantly all that time?
I broke an arm 10 years ago and my parents banned me from riding for a year, it was only a few months till I had saved up enough to buy a new deck and hide it at a mate’s house. I also took a year off riding to concentrate on cooking and making a career out of being a chef, it paid off and I got my own bistro and was able to skate whenever I wanted to.

You’re now a skate chef?
Knives and all, skate whites and animal blood everywhere.

Are there any crossover skills?
Not so much with the riding, but sometimes I feel like I’m cooking when I edit a video, it’s a balancing act, like flavor, sometimes you need a little drifting, a bit more speed, a touch of gnar and a whole bag of style to make a delicious video.

When did you start riding longboards?
7 years ago, I started by just bombing down massive hills in the dark on a short board, with leather jackets, moto helmets and 92a wheels. Back then there were only a dozen riders here in Aus, they were all a bit older than me, my mates brother Fitzy was one of the better riders and when I moved to Sydney he set me up a longboard (built for speed) and I haven’t looked back.
I guess I was struggling to reach the top in street boarding, Sydney had so many amazing young riders, I saw longboarding, speed racing whatever we call it, as a new sport that I could work hard at and get good at in a small community of riders.

How has the scene in Aus grown from a dozen riders to today?
Hard work hey! We used to think about the future of the sport a lot, the older generation of riders dominating the scene made good judgments and had money and time to give to the sport to push it in the right direction, we are here because we wanted to be and worked for it.

In those conversations, what future did you dream for the community?
Kids on your local hills, it never used to happen, but we would all imagine turning up to Mt Kiera and seeing kids we don’t even know, that happens all the time now, in some places it works great, the gromies know it’s a DH spot and don’t blow it, but the scene is growing out of control and some gromies don’t know the rules. We dreamed of the World Cup in Australia, that was what we all wanted – international exposure.

International exposure: Is that the end game?
It was, we now are moving back away from the IGSA and back to grass roots racing, less rules and more fun.

What’s the worst trouble groms have caused there?
Getting hit by cars is never good publicity, but recently the kids having been leaving rubbish and jump ramps out at our only closed DH road. The local oldies aren’t happy and might put a new fence up to stop the riders using the 800m downhill road.

Who were the people organising events back then?
The events back then were slalom events, everything was slalom, James Hopkin, Colin Becks, Haggy Strom, Dave Robertson. Some of them they still manage ASRA today and are working hard for our sport.

Do you enjoy cone dodging?

Last week I held a race called Shred the Thread, it was a DH 2 man heat race though cones, down a loosely straight road, it was fast and intense, heaps better then solo slalom.

How did you get the World Cup to Australia?
We had to find a track first, Bathurst was just a perfect place for it, it’s a real race track so closing it was easier, we also had a few good riders repping us so the world had to notice.

What is ASRA?
Australian Skateboard Racing Association

Are you involved?
Yeah, to an extent I guess. I have no power but as an event organiser myself I shift my weight in other ways.

Who are those 4 guys you mentioned earlier?
James is OG, he owns Hopkin Skate, Dave is the Boss, he runs Hopkin Skate and is Vice Prezo at ASRA, Hagbath is our dear leader at ASRA and Colin organises all the event formats and tech stuff when it comes to putting on races.

What other events do you organise?
Mostly outlaws, every Sunday I hold a movie competion in the shop, also girls trips to safe skate spots, gromie slide jams. I don’t have a regular job anymore so that’s about all I do when I’m not skating myself.

Are there many girls there who skate?
Heaps and heaps, they had a race on friday, followed by a Friday the 13th slide jam. Today some girls learned to shred in a carpark, 20-30 riders rocked up at the Hopshop this arvo for coffee, cake, some bandaids, antiseptic and watched some girls videos after their session.

Skate movie making competition?
Yeah bro, it’s the Sunday winter movie sessions, I’m downloading all the entries as we speak, the gromets get to enter a video each week, go in the chance to win a weekly prize like a camera or a mini setup and all the winners go into a major prize for a new Fibretec. We have a HD Projector in the hop shop so its a chance to watch themselves and their mates on the big screen, we are really lucky to have a space and equipment for this purpose. Cheers Hop.

Are you a film-maker yourself?
Yeah, I love it. I film almost every skate I attend in one form or another, I got into it when I broke a leg, I wanted to start filming and Robbo (the hopkin Manager, my biggest sponsor and supporter) sent me his rad Sony handy cam, I haven’t stopped since then.

What sorts of skating do you enjoy most?
Fast bombing with mates, big hills for big thrills.

What do you try to capture when you film skating?
I like to capture the HILL, from top to bottom, the experience the rider has when he bombs it. I try and share that by editing it in that direction, all the corners and straights in the same sequence that we skate it.

Are there any past projects of which you are particularly fond?
Each year i try and out do myself and go bigger and better. Recently I put together the End of The World series, it was a trip to Cuzco Peru with riders like Marisa Nunez, Maga (my wife) Ishtar Backlund, Jose Cortez, it was a week long trip and we rode the most epic shit I’ve ever seen. 5000m high, surrounded by Incan fields and buildings, bombing hills for hours! It was insane and led to a 6 part series.
Earlier Luca Coleman and myself filmed ”Its All Downhill From Here”, a 4 part series about the 2 of us shredding the coast of Peru, that was a crazy trip with some unforgettable rides.

Do you have any big film-making plans for this season?
Since I’m riding well again, I’m concentrating on getting better for a while, just racing and being filmed, Jacko and I have a few movies that we are working on, he’s got the film bug again now that he’s not rolling. I hope when we get Europe I can meet some guys like Yvon and and film with the Fibretec crew. I’m sure that i’ll be editing plenty of footage once I return.

How many of you are coming to Europe?
4-5 Aussies, Caspian Baska is coming to Kozakov, and Dani Hawes is usually lurking.

What is it about skating hills that makes you happy?
I don’t know bro, I’m an adrenaline junkie for sure, but its more than that, I enjoy the friendships you make while bombing together, risking life and death with your homies, I like the traveling and experiencing new cultures and I like the idea of telling my kids what I did when I was younger.

How did you end up skating so much in Peru?
My wife is from Peru, we met as next door neighbors in Sydney city, once we hooked up I wanted to meet the parents and Peru happened to have the Andes going through it so it all began. We have done 4 trips there now and each time the scene grows and I find new roads to skate.

Does she skate?
Dude! of course she skates, she’s amazing. She’s doing the Euro Tour and all 5 IGSAs this year. Should put her up there in world rankings. I think the younger girls have got a bit over her though, bit more fearless. But Maga is a really smart rider, she learns from everybody, never skates out of her depth and is a great ambassador for our sport. Its crazy sometimes to bomb a hill with her, its like “whats up babe, next corner is a sharp one” then we rail that shit and get all stoked out together. She’s my best mate and the love of my life.

What’s the best thing about being in love with someone who loves skating as much as you do?
I can use her wheels and we split the petrol, it’s cheaper as a double on road trips, hahaha. It’s fun these days to skate together but the learning curve was hard for a while for the both of us. I’m a hard teacher and I had forgotten how to teach/learn  the basics of riding, so I didn’t really grasp why she couldn’t just “get sideways”. But she learned by the book and has progressed daily, now I’m stoked to see her hitting massive hills and winning races.

How does skating down hills their differ from your home hills?
Whoa a lot! Its so gnarly bro! Ask anyone. If the road is ride-able then you’re only halfway there, the traffic can be insane, everyone is a local and cuts corners, overtakes in blind spots and all sorts of madness. Its rare to find a quiet road and feel safe.

What has been the highlight of skating in Peru for you?
Its still got to be winning at RedBull Downhill Nocturno, it was my first international race, held at 2am on a 4 lane highway through Lima, totally nuts, all under lights and with two hairpins and 90k straight. Epic

Have you skated in any other countries?
Yeah so far, we have done the Euro tour before but I was rooted and on crutches, that will all change soon.

When did you first get sponsored?
4 or 5 years back by Hopkin. Had the mad hook up since.

What is Hopkin?
Hopkin is James’ last name. It’s now the biggest and best longboarding store in the Southern hemisphere, its 4 levels deep, has a cinema, cafe (that I run) board room, work shop. Dope!

How have they helped you this past 5 years?
Man I would be cooking in the city somewhere if it wasnt for Hopkin, they are the biggest scene supporters, they dish out prizes for events weekly, put up major cash at our world cups and send me around the world. I haven’t had to buy any equipment since I got hooked up. Hop has given me cameras and contacts, shoes and even a roof over my head at times. They pay some of the bills as long as I keep skating, filming, blogging, organising events and just living longboarding day in and day out.

Living the dream?
In a dream. It’s hard work still eh, always got shit rolling and event in the works, this new Cafe “No Comply” in the Hopshop has been a bit of work getting up and going, heaps of fun setting it up and now cooking for all the regulars.

Sounds like more than a shop for you.
My best mates work there and I do too.

What’s your role in the Hopkin family?
I guess I’m a big brother, we have like 9 riders on the team, Australia’s best riders, some need to be kept in check and others do their own thing.

Who are the other members of the family?
JACKO, BenBro, Luca Coleman, Cam Kamakazi Kite, Kelly GROM Carter, Gabe, Maga McWhinnie, Lea Robertson, Deane Panya, Coop and our newest member YATEDOG.
Jackbro is the manager, he keeps every one rolling and traveling, organising shoots and sessions and helping everyone with race strategies and confidence. Solid mofo.

What do you ride?
Fibretec Flying pan (LIGHT WEIGHT version) 940, Kahas and usually otangs, but been trying out some of “those” wheels and having a lot of fun, got a freeride 1080 with Paris for a goofing around board. Kahas are the bomb for every hill.

Are those your other sponsors?
Yeah Kaha, Hop, Fibretec have hooked me up this year.

What are your plans for this season?
Well before the 2 world cups in Aus, I wasn’t too bothered with traveling anymore as I had just got back from 5 months in Peru. But I did really well and I’m rewarding the hard work by going to Europe for the tour, Maga is coming too, we will spend a month rolling around, hanging with Luca and his missus Alix, meeting the fibretec crew and shredding some massive mountains. Last time I was in Europe, I was on crutches and was backpacking, it was a bit horrible, but fun and beautiful at times, this time it’s all about enjoying ourselves. When we return, we have my parents-in-law visiting and I guess we will chill in Sydney for the summer. Earn some $$$ and do it again next year hey.

What was the highlight of the 2 Australian world cups?
Did Conrod straight switch after railing the elbow too, that was just insane, the fastest I’ve ever been in switch and just nailed the big lefty in switch toeside. Oh and Sunday night party at Mt Panorama, it was after the whole festival closed down and only DH riders were left on the hill, we took over this small control tower and Heelside Magazine set up some decks, had a massive bonfire and partyed all night, it was a big weight off my shoulders, I had raced really well, got top aussie at Bathurst and took some names at Mt keira, it was the last chance to hit it with a lot of mates who were about to leave too.

Will you be coming to London with the Colemans?
I don’t think so, you guys have got some sports festival on at the moment, looks a bit intense, Luca is joining us on the road on tour though, hope to get down to see his place in Spain again one day.

But at least they’ll feature us in the closing ceremony!
You’re kidding, pushing around the stadium.

Longboarding on the world stage bro!
That’s pretty cool I guess, but I hope it never becomes a sport hosted by the Olympics, too many rules and regs, plus drug testing and the rest of it.

You don’t think corporate money would help the community?
It does, but I just can’t see it. Maybe long distance pushing would be rad, it’s the highest paying skateboard job atm. Big corporates rarely make any effect on the streets here in Sydney, the local communities are built from a small base and don’t rely on massive handouts, if they did, it would be high risk and destined for failure.

What are you looking forward to most about your upcoming adventure?
Cheap wine, good cheese, smooth roads, new boards, seeing all the guys that I’ve only known from coming to my country.

Team red wine will keep you juiced.
Hope so, I’m officially starting my holiday now so I can get in shape for all the drinking and late nights.

Where would you like the scene in Oz to be like in 5 years?
Would be rad to have a few more big $$$ events, like Mt Keira next year is dropping IGSA and putting 20 grand up for grabs, 3 more big events like this and some real exposure in the media will mean more riders, more closed roads and more infrastructure to breed top Aussie riders to send out and dominate the world.

Pick 3 numbers from 1-37.

1 – What do you take with you when you go for a skate?
nanna pants

2 – Would you rather have a hook for a hand or a wheel for a foot?
Hook, I guess I could stab a skate puck on it still

3 – What impact has longboarding had on your life?
“downhill skateboarding has ruined my life.” Complete Radness.
It’s been really fun talking to you bro! Hope you have fun on our continent, maybe catch you somewhere if the wind blows right!
Right on, thanks champ for getting it done, give us a yell if you’re ever down-under.

Any thank yous?
All my buddies, the guys that turn up to my events and race, the people that believe and trust in me, the old guy who invented urethane, Fibretec for not caring that I broke my new board in under a week. James, Robbo and all the staff at the hop shop for being the best friends, Jacko for being so damn fast and always teaching us to keep up with him. Luca for hooking me up too many times with dope safety meetings. Maga my wife for looking so beautiful everyday, caring about me and suporting us when I’m injured, working hard for our trips and keeping it cool and driving the follow car when I want to skate.